Wednesday, March 11, 2020
Words of Life from the Cross: The Faithful Word
Pastor Chris Matthis
Ascension Lutheran Church, Littleton, Colorado
Focus: God will never forsake his people.
Function: That they would have confidence in God’s presence and promise in difficult times.
Locus: “But deliver us from evil” (The Lord’s Prayer).
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Listen to the words of Jesus:
“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’” (Matthew 27:45–46, ESV).
This is, without a doubt, the most terrifying thing Jesus ever said. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” How in the world could God abandon his only-begotten Son? How could the Father forget about Christ? How could Jesus feel separated from God when he himself is divine? Were his words only for effect? Were they mere sentiment? Or was Jesus really, truly abandoned by God in that moment on the cross? And, if God could abandon Jesus, then what about you and me? Are we ever really safe if there is a possibility of God forsaking us?!
Have you ever felt rejected by God, abandoned, or forsaken? Not everyone goes through a crisis of faith such as this, but over the centuries many great Christian pastors, writers, and artists have experienced what is called “the dark night of the soul”—an extended period of spiritual loneliness and silence during which God seems completely absent or even turned against them. Some people who have come through a dark night claim that they learned a lot about God and themselves through the experience, but I, for one, do not recommend it.
The terminology “dark night of the soul” (la noche oscura) comes from a line in a poem by St. John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz), one of the 16th century Spanish mystics. During a dark night, your soul is constantly in anguish and often tortured by the memory of a time when God felt close and near. F. Scott Fitzgerald, writer of The Great Gatsby, famously said, “In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day.” But for Jesus, the dark night came at about three o’clock in the afternoon, as he hung dying on the cross (cf. Matt. 27:45-46).
When Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!”, the darkness covering the world was nothing compared to the depth of the darkness in Jesus’ soul.
I do not pretend to know the full meaning of Jesus’ desperate, pleading prayer, which is a quotation from Psalm 22. But I do know that Jesus didn’t say things only for show. In some very real, terrible way, he felt abandoned and forsaken by God on the cross. He had to feel abandoned in order to bear the full brunt of God’s wrath against sin—our sin—a wrath that is most experienced in eternal separation from the presence of God. “Depart from me, you cursed…” (Matt. 25:41).
God is holy, and he can allow nothing unholy in his presence. Sin separates us from God. And even though Jesus committed no sins, he became sin for us. The Bible says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Since Jesus became sin on the cross (although not a sinner), God could not let him remain in his presence. And so Jesus was cut off. The prophet Isaiah describes this in horrific words poetically expressed in that Good Friday hymn, “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted”:
Stricken, smitten, and afflicted, See Him dying on the tree!
‘Tis the Christ, by man rejected; Yes, my soul, ‘tis He, ‘tis He.
‘This the long-expected Prophet, David’s Son, yet David’s Lord;
And yet, even in his terrible sorrow, Jesus did not despair or give up hope. He kept the faith. The God he believed forsook him never stopped being his God! Barbara Brown Taylor writes: “Jesus died talking to his Abba [Father], who would not talk back to him. Is there any other definition of faith? In his suffering, he is the comfort of those who have no comfort. In his abandonment, he is the God of those who have no God.” As he prayed, “My God, my God!,” our heavenly Father remained Jesus’ God even as he prayed that horrible prayer from Psalm 22 on behalf of all God’s people when we find ourselves in our darkest hour.
The Good News for you is that because God abandoned Jesus on the cross, he will never, ever abandon you. Jesus bore your sin to the cross. He became sin for us and was cursed for us (Gal. 3:13). But now, because God abandoned Jesus, he will never abandon you.
“None of us ever have to feel what he felt again,” writes Taylor. “Because he was all alone, and we have his company. At our most hurt, our most frightened, our most forsaken by God, we have this companion who has been there and will be there with us.” Indeed, Jesus promises, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). Come hell or high water, Jesus “will never leave you or forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). He always keeps his Word, and he will never break a promise.
The prayer of Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” may at times feel like your prayer and your circumstance. But it is no longer your prayer. God is with you and for you. Absolutely nothing—not even life or death—can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:38-39). Because of Jesus, even in the dark night, you need never be alone ever again. This is the great Christian hope of Revelation:
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:3-4).
All of this is possible only because Jesus died and rose again for you. He was rejected for you. Truly, he was stricken, smitten, and afflicted by God and man, and because he paid the price, you belong to God forever. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of